The ultimate Beatles sound test

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Tribune reporter Mark Caro meet with fellow Beatles fans to discuss their opinions on three different vinyl editions from the famed British band. The group congregated at Audio Consultants in Evanston on Nov. 7, 2012. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

"The vocals and guitar sounded great," Purse said. "The bass was missing."

"It was very crunchy," Soloway said.

The Mobile Fidelity version, played second, got kudos for boasting more clarity and bass, though Buskin and Rodriguez preferred the first one's energy. Then came the new one, prompting Shanoff to say, "There's the bass. This is it."

The new one had the fullest sound, and was, in Buskin's words, "the most balanced. All the elements were there." Alexander liked it the most, and Soloway declared it the best audio experience of the three, though "the first one had the energy we remember."

"The third one is the best audio experience," Buskin agreed, "but if I were at home, I'd rather hear the first one."

WINNER: Tie, Old and New.

Round 7: "A Day in the Life" ("Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," 1967)

Our last test was the grand finale of the Beatles' most celebrated album, with its dreamy verses, mind-warping orchestral ascents and crashing final piano chord. The new one came first, and the room listened in almost religious silence.

"This was the best-sounding thing we've heard tonight," Buskin said, and almost everyone agreed, though Alexander deemed it "too clear," and Purse thought the orchestra swell was overwhelming.

The old version, played second, was less full and deemed flat by Shanoff and Alexander and muddy by Buskin and Purse, though Purse appreciated that the orchestra sounded "more organic."

The Mobile Fidelity version, played third, was an improvement over the old one, but the consensus was that the first one offered the biggest payoff.

"This to me is in a different class," Buskin said as we listened to the new vinyl again. "Beautiful."

Finally, we listened to "A Day in the Life" on the 2009 CD (and even more expensive equipment) and found the vinyl to have more body and warmth.

WINNER: New.

So the new albums fared best, and on my far more modest home stereo system, I spun some of the albums we hadn't test-driven, such as "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" and they sounded excellent as well (standout: "And I Love Her"), though the White Album still had that strangely muffled quality.

Although Buskin tended to prefer the new ones, he was frustrated by the inconsistency. "What is unsatisfying about it if you invest the money, you're still not assured of getting the definitive versions across the board," he said.

But Shanoff felt that all of our nit-picking missed the larger point: The Beatles albums were available again on vinyl, and the fact that so much more care was put into these reissues than the commonly available reissues of earlier years was just icing on the cake.

"I'm of the belief it's a good thing to have Beatles albums back in print," he said, "whether they're $12.95 or $24.95."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

mcaro@tribune.com
Twitter @MarkCaro

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